Redmond has edge for final spot in Jays rotation

Todd Redmond pitched five innings giving up two runs on four hits as the Toronto Blue Jays defeated the Baltimore Orioles.

DUNEDIN, Fla. – Todd Redmond’s solid start against the Baltimore Orioles on Sunday afternoon kept him squarely in the competition for the final spot in the Blue Jays rotation and kept the picture for that last spot as clear as mud.

This we know: R.A. Dickey will knuckleball it up on Opening Day in St. Petersburg against the Tampa Bay Rays. We also know that Mark Buehrle will not start the season’s second game. As well, Brandon Morrow will be part of the rotation and, though for some reason the Blue Jays won’t come out and say it, so too will Drew Hutchison. Rounding out the rotation, barring a late-spring trade, will be one of Redmond, J.A. Happ, Esmil Rogers, Marcus Stroman or Ricky Romero – listed in order of likeliest to least likely to win the job, in my educated guess.

The only one of those five to have really distinguished himself so far this spring is Romero, who has done enough to earn a start on Tuesday afternoon in Lakeland against the Tigers. Romero has looked like his old self more often than not, but it’s a lot to ask for him to be rid of the demons that plagued him the last few seasons by the end of this month. He’s likely ticketed for triple-A Buffalo, but the more he looks like his old self, the more likely the Blue Jays will want him back in the big leagues after a minimal amount of minor league outings.

Redmond has been the best of the rest, and his workmanlike five innings Sunday were pretty much what he’s all about. When Redmond is right, keeping the ball down and staying away from the middle of the plate, he’s very effective. He was exactly that in the first, third and fifth innings – three perfect frames over which he needed a total of just 26 pitches.

When the ball creeps up, or catches too much of the middle of the plate, Redmond is in trouble, as he was in the second and fourth. The righty threw 47 pitches over those two innings, allowing two runs on four hits – three of which were loud doubles on a day a hard wind was blowing straight in, keeping everything in the ballpark early on.

Redmond has had three good outings and two poor ones so far this spring, but that’s better than what Rogers and Happ have accomplished. All three of them have shaky track records as big league starters, though Happ has by far the most starts of the trio and the Blue Jays continue to insist that he’s one of their guys.

The truth is, though, that if Happ were actually in, the rotation would be set. Barring an injury, there is no longer any scenario in which Hutchison isn’t a part of the starting staff when the bell rings. Therefore, the only reason we (and the Blue Jays) are still talking about competition for a spot in the rotation is because Happ’s is not secure.

So with Happ still having not pitched even remotely close to well in a Grapefruit League game (40.50 ERA, more walks allowed than outs recorded) and not having thrown more than 43 pitches in an outing yet, there are serious doubts as to whether he’ll be ready to go when things get going for real.

Whoever winds up being the fifth starter won’t be a consideration to fit in between Dickey and Buehrle in the rotational order. One of the two flamethrowers, Morrow and Hutchison, has to go in that spot to take full advantage of the effect of following the flutterballer and to show a much different look than the soft-tossing lefty. Morrow appears to be a bit behind the rest of his rotation mates, so it’s not out of the question that he would be the guy who slips lower in the order, likely to the fifth spot in the rotation, which would have Hutchison starting the second game of the season.

This would be both nothing new for the Blue Jays and no negative reflection on Morrow, either. Remember, only two years ago Joel Carreno started the third game of the season for the Jays despite being the “fifth starter,” and the year before that Kyle Drabek was second out of the chute.

If it breaks down that way it doesn’t mean that Hutchison is the Jays’ “No. 2 starter,” and it also means that Morrow would get the home opener. As well, it means whoever wins the final spot in the rotation would make his first two starts against the weaker-hitting Rays and Astros, as opposed to having to deal with the higher-octane Yankees their first time out.

So who’s going to win the final spot? Who knows? Maybe not even the Blue Jays’ brass. If I had to bet, I would think that Redmond gets the nod to start the season at least and perhaps only until Stroman or Romero is deemed ready to go, which could well be by the end of April if not sooner.

There’s an argument to be made for Stroman to break with the big club, by the way. The young righty seems just about ready for his first taste of the big leagues. If they threw him in right now, he wouldn’t necessarily be any worse than Happ, Redmond or Rogers, and he has the stuff, command, make-up and presence to be much, much better than any of them. But there’s also not much to be lost by sending him to Buffalo for some more seasoning.

If the choice is Redmond, then Rogers would go to the bullpen (where the Jays thought he was better-suited when they got him from Cleveland last winter) and Happ would either join him there or start the season on the disabled list as he gains strength in rebounding from the back problem that he suggested ought not to have put him on the shelf in the first place. It seems that just as he was last year at this time, the tall lefty is the odd man out of the Blue Jays plans. Last year, Romero’s meltdown allowed Happ to force his way back in; it doesn’t appear a similar opportunity will arise to start the season, but we shall see.

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